Countering Skills Deficit in Apparel Industry

Less than 3 percent of the 12.8 million population joining the workforce every year have the opportunity for any kind of vocational or skill training. In this context, the “National Skill Deficit” is a reality and the Apparel Sector is one of the worst hit with acute skill shortage affecting the export units eroding fast India's competitiveness in the global apparel geography

The Indian Textile & Clothing (T&C) industry is one of the largest and critical industries in the Indian economy in terms of foreign exchange earnings and employment generation. The industry contributes 4% to the country's GDP and 14% of the country's industrial production. The apparel exports contributed around US$ 11 billion to India's foreign exchange earnings in 2009-10. The Indian T&C industry is also the largest employment generating industry in the manufacturing sector with direct employment of over 35 million people.  It is also estimated that about 45 million are indirectly employed in the entire textile value chain. Apparel being at the end of value chain before the consumer, the value edition is the highest with US dollar 2 of 1 kg cotton becoming 20 dollar US when converted as garments.  Thus, the need of the hour is to integrate the Textile & Apparel sector i.e. the fibre to fashion value chain in a garment-led growth strategy and the skill transferability needs to put in place through the value chain. This requires a comprehensive and pragmatic vocational and skill training strategy in different textile-apparel clusters to fill the knowledge & training gaps so that the industry can move up the value chain with the help of skilled workforce. Elucidating the case of textiles and apparel sector, it can be seen that for the upstream activities of spinning, weaving, knitting and processing, the projected employment requirements are 5.5 lakhs, 1.57 lakhs, 0.92 lakhs and 1.76 lakhs respectively for the period co-terminus with the 11th Five Year Plan. The downstream requirement for apparel sector is estimated to be in the range of 4 million to 7 million in the next 3 years or so. A CITI report has estimated the current work force in the textile and apparel industry to be around 35 million and has reckoned the same to move up to 47 million by 2015 including 5 million skilled workers and 2 million technical and other personnel. A CRISIL study indicates a requirement of 12 million work force by 2010 with 5 million in the core technology production activities and the remaining 7 million in support and auxiliary services. With such opportunities projected for the textiles & apparel sector, how do we train the displaced agricultural labourers, the youth and women to seek gainful employment in the textile-apparel sector which is the largest employment generator after agriculture?  It would seem that the apparel sector has not been factored in sufficiently by the policy makers or HRD ministry in various schemes for education, training and linked employment generation. Ideally, textile and apparel sector in a country like India should have got a prominent place as it has the capacity to generate massive employment, both in urban and rural centres and to offer employment locally, which will reduce the migration to metros.  Nearly 20 years ago in Sri Lanka, the then Government provided attractive incentives of tax holiday for the unit as well as the mother company for setting up units in rural areas which have helped in shaping apparel-led rural economies.  Both the export and the domestic retail industries for fashion and apparel could have and certainly will, benefit from a clearer focus of skill development activities. 

ATDC through the tie-up with IGNOU has set-up 25 Community Colleges and the courses in the Community Colleges will help the students to be able to bridge the employability criteria gap and already there are nearly 2000 students pursuing their studies under the system

The human resources especially skill training and development in this sector has been by and large given a go by until recently. With the advent of fashion education in the late 80s, there has been considerable improvement in the situation though not sufficient. The vocational and skill training education infrastructure have fallen behind the requirements and the industrial engineering / modern technology management, which are of paramount importance to apparel sector are found missing. An industry leader in garment export industry in Bangalore had to train in a span of 11 months 47,000 people to retain 6,000 people in their factories! With increasing competitive pressures on both time and costs, the skill deficit has only further added to the woes affecting the industry.  Studies have clearly indicated the need for 5-7 million additional people have to be identified and trained if the industry has to make rapid progress in the years ahead. The competition from China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia and smaller countries like Sri Lanka are sniping away at India's market share.  As Mr. Ashroff Omar, Chairman of Brandix a leading Apparel Export House based in Sri Lanka with over 400 million US$ exports and also having set up a 1000 acre “Apparel City” in Vizag, AP, says “India is  allowing other people to eat their lunch.”  

Collaboration with IGNOU

Given this scenario, it is important to contextualise the tie-up of Apparel Training and Design Centre (ATDC) & Institute of Apparel Management (IAM), the training & education arms of Apparel Export Promotion Council (AEPC) with IGNOU for mainstreaming apparel manufacturing and management related education.  On the one hand, IGNOU's timely initiative of Community Colleges have provided an avenue for advancement of rural youth through vocational education at their door step especially through employment linked courses certified by IGNOU. 

There is an array of 6 months certificate, 1 year diploma and 2 years Associate degree programmes under the system to shape a cadre of junior and middle level workforce to the Apparel Industry. ATDC through the tie-up with IGNOU has set-up 25 Community Colleges and the courses in the Community Colleges will help the students to be able to bridge the employability criteria gap and already there are nearly 2000 students pursuing their studies under the system. The IAM as an education Institute has a significant tie-up with IGNOU for collaborating and certifying the courses both at UG and at PG levels.  IAM operates as a face-to-face College under the IGNOU system. The ATDC students after completing their “Associate Degree” May have opportunities to pursue higher education through lateral entry in the IAM system.  IAM focuses on key areas of export marketing, brand building and retail management.  The export management revolves around courses in design, merchandising and technical subjects like CAD/CAM studio management etc.  The supervisory, junior and middle management positions which are critical to the apparel industry's success have found the IAM students appropriate for the job profiles.  The apparel industry has welcomed the tie-up with the IGNOU and in fact the Ministry of Textiles have sited this as a “significant step” of far reaching importance.  The industry looks at the students certified by IGNOU through both ATDC & IAM as noteworthy human resource development efforts.  The next stage of evolution of Community College certainly involves around more open and distributed learning systems which incorporate other inputs critical to success in the market place as well.  In the case of IAM, there are possibilities of research agenda being taken up to develop the IAM-IGNOU collaboration further.  It is necessary to find new ways of Continuing Education and Special Certificate Programmes in various aspects of the business which will help the existing professional workforce in the small and medium enterprises to upgrade their skills, competencies and technical knowledge.  The apparel industry needs to focus on Human Resource Development now more than never before as competition becomes intense and creativity and innovation assume paramount importance and hence it is clear that the IGNOU-ATDC/IAM tie-up is certainly a trail blazer for the talent & skill deficit affected apparel industry.

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